Still Divided By A Common Language?

One of the benefits of blogging has been meeting writers from all over the world and getting to know about their work. One of these blogger-writers is Roy McCarthy, who pops over to The Misfortune of Knowing from his home in Jersey, Channel Islands* to share his perspective on a range of topics, including whether an ebook is ever worth $17.99.

Recently, I was delighted to learn that Roy’s novel, Barry, is available on Amazon and not priced at $17.99 for the ebook.

McCarthy CoverThis novel features the Lane family, including Barry, who is facing a somewhat early mid-life crisis as he approaches his 40th birthday: he’s an overweight former runner who is financially insecure and disconnected from his lovely wife of 10 years. We follow the Lanes’ journey, as Barry and his wife Lara struggle to reduce the impact of their diverging interests on their relationship and on their children. The novel then goes from England, where the Lanes live, to Ireland, the scene of a crime that ultimately touches the lives of the Lanes and other characters we meet through them. The connections between some of these subplots remain loose, with Barry becoming less important than the title of the book would suggest, but I cared about all of the characters and wanted to see how each one of them fared in the end. I appreciated that Roy managed to infuse this novel with humor, no small feat when addressing such sobering themes as mid-life crisis, discrimination, and murder.

Roy’s use of British slang was a particularly interesting aspect of reading this novel, reminding me of the saying that England and the United States are “two countries divided by a common language,” which is a quote or misquote attributed to either Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. There are many versions of English, variations from country to country and within countries. In the past, my only exposure to some of the British terms in the novel, such as this word for cigarette, would have been through travel, visitors, television, and the occasional book that somehow made it onto my local bookstore shelf without being scrubbed of its colloquial flavor. The Internet has exposed me to the whole wide world in a more direct and interactive way, allowing me to converse with bloggers from different backgrounds and read their books. We may continue to speak variations of the same language, but we’re not “divided” at all.

By the way, speaking of regional variations of English, there’s a recent article in The Atlantic Cities about the decline of the Philly accent. Water is “wooder” around here, but who knows for how much longer! For the record, I don’t have a Philly accent (at least not a very noticeable one). My parents aren’t from here originally, and they are the ones who have had the strongest influence on my speech patterns.

Here’s Jane’s review of Barry on Robby Robin’s Journey.

*Not to be confused with New Jersey, my neighboring state.


      1. I am a veritable trove of useless miscellaneous information like that. (e.g. I’m pretty sure I know why/when people stopped pronouncing the Anglo-Saxon diphthong “ei” (“ee”) as the Germanic (“eye”), and I am totally sure about the proper pronunciation of “dissect,” and the correct pronoun that should be associated with that potentially stone-casting guy who is without sin.

        1. oops. I meant ‘people stopped pronouncing the Anglo-Saxon diphthong “ei” (“ee”) and started pronouncing it as the Germanic (“eye”).’

          Obviously I am also a veritable trove of poor proofreading.

  1. As an editor, I have experience with both American English and British English. I’ve also had fun editing South African English, which is loaded with interesting slang. I love that variations exist country to country; it keeps language alive and vital.

    1. I’d love to read more books in South African English. I would probably find editing books in different versions of English to be very hard. I’m impressed that you’ve done it!

      1. After a while, it’s second nature. Though if a book is set in the States, it’s edited to American English even if the author is British or Australian. So writers have to know the differences between them too! 🙂 In a way, this is homogenizing English, making it understandable around the world. I see this as both a good and bad thing. Good, because it translates in more than your home country; bad, because it’s removing some of the more colorful words and phrases.

        1. Interesting! Do the publishers you’ve worked with permit differences based on where in the US the novel is set? A novel set in the South shouldn’t be the same as one set in Boston or Minnesota.

  2. Thanks for including the link to my “review”, AMB. I enjoyed reading your take on “Barry”, needless to say. People from the other side of the pond should be aware that not only are there MANY regions differences in speech within the U.S., but things are different again in Canada, especially in places like Newfoundland. And our spellings are partly British and partly U.S. I liked your reference to your parents and not having a Philly accent. I grew up on Long Island and my father, from Boston, lived in fear that his kids would have a Long Island accent!

    1. Hi, Jane! Thanks for popping over. I’ve noticed how varied Canadian accents are (I’ve never been to Newfoundland, though). Is your accent more Long Island, Boston, or Canada at this point?

  3. I love how the quote/misquote is from an Irishman!

    It’s funny how even between towns and villages only two miles apart there are specific words and phrases that differ!
    (In my limited experience anyway!)

      1. I also find the whole Irish accents and phrases in NewFoundland so entertaining.
        It seems bizarre to me that generations later people have retained the Irish accent!
        I wonder how accents develop, there must be a book about that somewhere….

  4. Thank you AMB for your perspective on ‘Barry’ and for being merciful to my first, vanity effort at a novel. It’s certainly interesting to read the ‘take’ of other people. Accents and dialects in the British Isles are amazingly varied throughout considering both the smallness of the region and the universal influence of television over the last 60 years.
    Strangely, perhaps, we (this side of the Pond) tend to lump every USA accent as ‘American’ and we don’t realise that, of course, you must have many variances.

    1. You’re welcome! It reminded me a bit of Jonasson’s 100 Year Old Man and Somerville’s The Cradle in structure. Have you read either of those books?

      As for American English, we have many regional differences. English spoken is the South is quite different from what you’ll hear in Philly, NYC, or Boston.

  5. So in college I took a dialects class. It was supposed to be for acting majors, I did it for kicks and giggles. My professor said he thought there would come the time when we all had no accents at all because of our world getting so much closer over technology. But I hope that’s never true. I love going to different parts of America and hearing different accents. I hope that stays the same for any country, English-speaking or not, that dialects continue and make each area unique. Why would we ever all want to be exactly the same?

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